During the presidential debate Monday night, Hillary Clinton appeared confident (if not a little haughty) but overall well prepared when compared with Donald Trump’s brash and aggressive attacks on her policies and abilities. When it came to trade concerns; however, Clinton surprisingly stumbled on what could have been an opportunity to give attention to her economic strategies. For what seemed like an obvious attacking point for Trump, Clinton had very little to say in defense of her trading policies.
Trump is not the first presidential hopeful that has brought up Clinton’s support for NAFTA and TPP. During the 2008 election, the Obama campaign made the same allegations as Trump did over Clinton’s trading policies. The Clinton campaign was quick to rebuttal saying that Clinton, “like everybody else…[was] not supposed to deviate from the position of the administration… and that certainly applies to a first lady.” At the time, Clinton also told The Huffington Post, “I believe in the general principles it [NAFTA] represented. But what we have learned is that we have to drive a tougher bargain. Our market is the market that everybody wants to be in. We should quit giving it away so willy-nilly. I believe we need tougher enforcement of the trade agreements we already have.” Both explanations would have been enough to curb Trumps accusations, but even her voting record would have backed her credibility against Trumps claims. In 2005, Clinton voted against the Central America Free Trade Agreement. In 2015 she opposed Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.
If the 2008 attacks on her trade policy started to cobweb in the back of Clinton’s memory, Bernie Sanders was able dust them off again. In Michigan, voters rallied behind Sanders when he called out Clinton for her “disastrous trade deals.” Ultimately this cost Hillary the Michigan primary.
Recently polls have even reminded Clinton that trade policy is an issue that concerns many Americans and is something that they associate with job loss. So with an issue as big as trade is for Clinton and her campaign, why was this the one subject she appeared weak on?
There are two equal explanations. The first is that Hillary may realize that she needs to do more to ensure voters that all of her economic policies are sound. A Pew Research Poll reported that a large number of Americans think that Trump is better qualified to improve the economy than Hillary. The second reason is that Clinton’s struggle with this policy is also Trumps most valuable selling point.
On trade, Clinton knows that, “Donald Trump is formidable.” Former top White House economist Jared Bernstein describes is best when he told the Washington Post that Trump, “is talking about something real, and he is making many points that people on the left have been making.” This makes it hard for Clinton’s policy’s to stand out against Trump’s flagship campaign platform.
The 2016 Election stands to be neck and neck as voters make their final decision in November. If Hillary Clinton wants to widen the gap and sustain her lead, she is going to have to revitalize her trading policies. The best thing she can do for her campaign is to establish a strong, pro-American business trade policy (she currently has none in here released economic policy explanations). She needs to run that platform until voters see her as competent when it comes to trade and ensuring availability of jobs for the American people. Then, when Trump questions her trustworthiness on her trade policy she needs to refer to her voting history in the past 4 years.
In many ways this election is still up for grabs. It will be interesting to see how both candidates secure their policies, their agenda and in the end their voters.